Parkend Players was originally conceived as an ad hoc theatre troupe and was formed by a keen band of village amateurs with the sole intention of staging a single pantomime. This was a resounding success and from then on local writer, Maureen Timmins produced her own customised brand of pantomime each year. This was used as a vehicle to show off the variety of talent readily available in Parkend. A committee was formed in 1998 and the society slowly began to take shape. A difficult year followed when a certain amount of enthusiasm seemed to drain away but some new members were attracted for the 1999-2000 season panto, Maureen’s “Stop the Millennium Superbug” and vitality returned to the group.
The increased size of the group allowed the staging of one act plays and in June 2000, Parkend Players supper theatre was born. John Mortimer’s “The Lunch Hour” was teamed with a comedy entitled, “Everybody’s Friend” by David Campion and a delightful ploughman’s style supper was served between the plays.
The critical success of this venture led in turn to another expansion of membership and with this further increase in numbers the Players were now eager to tackle a full length professional pantomime. Norman Robbins’ “Aladdin” was performed to enthusiastic full houses on 3 consecutive nights during February 2001. This was the group’s most successful production to date.
A new project came up – we were commissioned to write and perform a murder mystery for a private party. Despite a few anxious moments during rehearsal, Fiona Crawley’s prosaically titled, “Murder at Lydney Junction” received extensive and fulsome praise. With the aid of our newly founded website and more publicity, we were able to attract even more new members.
In 2002 “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” by John Morley was particularly memorable for the dozen or so children, one as young as four, who participated with such obvious enjoyment and enthusiasm. Directed by Ann Kent, produced by Pip Deave, scenery by the artistic Simon Moore, this was the first time we had played to four packed houses, each giving a resounding ovation. We decided to repeat the “murder mystery” during the summer of 2002 and with a few judicial rewrites and a slight change of cast – mainly due to the expanding pregnancy of the leading lady – we played to two full houses at Parkend Club at the end of June. The audience helped us to achieve an authentic 1940s look by dressing in vintage costume and we were able to donate £400 to our charity, Look West, the Bristol based charity for visually impaired children.
Another first for Parkend Players in June 2002 when we were invited to record a 20 minute slot for Forest of Dean Radio, the group decide to read excerpts from the much enjoyed ‘Murder at Lydney Junction’. We have subsequently been approached to provide original drama and a soap opera for this station.
If you are familiar with local history then you will probably already be acquainted with one of the finest local historians, Ralph Anstis of Coalway, and indeed it was from Ralph that Parkend Players found their next inspiration. Sometime back, Dave and Ann Kent had enjoyed Ralph’s new novel, ‘Let the Hero be the Hungry Man’ and they, ever with a keen eye for dramatics, very quickly realised that the material would lend itself to make a powerful, emotional drama. Ralph was persuaded to take on this new project and with the unfailing support of his lovely wife, Bess, created a play which carried the same name. It was decided to try a four nights, a first for Parkend Players, at the end of November 2002. There were some reservations expressed about this, could we fill 100 seats four nights in a row? Not only did we fill 4 nights, we could have run for an entire week! Everything about the show worked; the publicity was the best we had ever had, drawing people from all over the county; Dean Heritage came on board and helped us promote and allowed us to look over the museum exhibits; costumes and props were, as usual, outstanding and the cast and production crew were simply phenomenal. The reviews were wonderful; accolades poured in from every quarter and we raise over £1000 for various charities, including FORGE in Cinderford.
2003 was one of our busiest years.
Simon Moore directed the lavish and colourful Arabian Knights by Richard Lloyd. Pip Deave’s marvellous set was not only a great achievement but also required the most scenery changes ever. Stage manager Sue Brand called frantically ‘cushions on, cushions off, turnips on, turnips off’, whilst her excellent stage crew Mike Webb and Pip Deave could have easily had a nervous breakdown. New to the stage, Tony Fisher as the voluptuous dame, dependable baddy Peter Thomas as Saladin and the extremely rude and incontinent Camel aka Jess Collins and Pete Timmins, certainly made this an unforgettable panto.
It was unanimously decided to host a return to the famous and very much appreciated supper plays. Simon Moore volunteered to direct a little one act French number from master farceur, Georges Feydeau, entitled, The Music Lovers. Set in a 1920s Parisian drawing room, the play starred Pete Thomas, Debbie Browning, Sue Brand (she of the expressive eyebrows), Jude Buik and Fiona Crawley. Jess Collins directed her first play after the splendid supper and produced a hilarious medley of music hall mayhem, featuring Mike Webb, Pete Timmins and Keith Gwynne as The Molecatchers, these three were joined by Dave Buik, Debbie James and Pip Deave in a typical melodrama, The Tram Track Tragedy (the title is self explanatory) and the evening was rounded of in a dazzling display of technical wizardry with the recreation of an antique piece of black and white cinema, running first forward, then backwards and then forwards double speed! Duncan Hatcher provided a seamless virtuosic exhibition of long words and intellectual filthiness as the music hall chairman, Yvonne Kapuscinski’s marvellous costumes and live music was added by Yvonne Walkerdine and Fiona Crawley. It was one of Parkend Players’ finest hours. The atmosphere was electric. All tickets were sold without a stroke of publicity, such is our reputation now.
Not only had we raised over £3000 for various charities during that 18 months, but we provided many incidental benefits for our venue, Parkend Memorial Hall.
Pip Deave decided to tackle the extremely emotional play Cancer Tales by Nell Dunn, a narrative of real thoughts and experiences of people with and affected by cancer. This was a brave step for Parkend Players and for those who chose to be involved. There were mixed feelings from the membership whether this was a project we should undertake, but the group went on to stage it at Bristol, Viney Hill and later in Cheltenham (2004). In terms of money raised it was our most successful play, raising £2311.87 for cancer charities and patient facilities.
This year also saw the beginnings of other smaller ventures, Play Readings organised by Dave Kent, visiting theatre groups like The Everyman’s ‘Golightly’s’ who staged ‘Two’ and in February we had our first Open Forum.
Sue Brand and Debbie Browning produced our first Newsletter, which we hoped to issue 4 times a year, but in reality this proved to be quite time consuming and currently issued 3 times a year. The Newsletter is sent to all our members and associate friends, either electronically or by post and includes; news of future events, PYP page, spotlight on one of our members, behind the scenes, notes from the editors reviews and pictures. Fiona Crawley (past secretary) continued to work closely with FoDDC arts development and with allied organisations in order to foster improved links with other local dramatic societies and to develop our own marketing and publicity strategies. This has been continued by our current secretary Pip Deave. Our busy and talented President, Mo Timmins pioneered a highly successful, very well attended writing course which ran throughout
the spring; WriteHereWriteNow.
During the next few productions our membership has continued to grow to include some very talented people, not just on the stage. We have substantially improved our productions over the years and this is due to the skilled members of the team who design and build the set, provide the sound & effects, plan and provide lighting, make costumes, design and print posters, tickets and programmes, plan and serve front of house, take stage photography and video and all the things which make a production worthwhile. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, A Christmas Carol, The Comedy of Errors and Jack & the Beanstalk, are all brilliant illustrations of how a talented group of individuals can change the appearance of our venue, Parkend Memorial Hall, to transport the audience into the world of theatre.
The Players have a rosy future ahead; we now have approaching 80 members, many with very highly developed, highly sought after individual skills. We provide intriguing and inventive, innovative and imaginative theatre to the delight of the local community. We do not rest on our laurels. We constantly explore new avenues and breathe vitality into tested formulae and the best thing of all is that we all have a damn good time doing it. For what is the use of all this hard work if we can not at the same time enjoy ourselves?